AUSTIN, TEXAS — In his first major appearance since leaving the White House, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a packed auditorium at SXSW on Sunday afternoon about a world in which cancer isn’t fatal.
“Your generation can be the first generation on Earth that goes through life with cancer as a preventable or controllable disease as opposed to a death sentence,” Biden said.
Throughout his one-hour speech, Biden laid out a vision for the future, where patients received the right treatment without harmful side effects and children were vaccinated against certain kinds of cancers. “I am unable to postpone for one day longer the things we can do now to extend people’s lives,” Biden said. “We can make enormous progress.”
At times verging on tears, with his voice growing soft, Biden spoke tenderly about his older son Beau who died at 46 in 2015, after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. Biden remembered how, that summer, he made the decision not to run for president. “Neither Jill or I, we didn’t have the stomach,” Biden said, referring to his wife. “No one should run for president of the United States unless they are prepared to give every ounce of their energy to that undertaking.”
Biden said that after he shared the news with President Obama, he told him of his only regret. “I would have loved to be the president who presided over the end of cancer as we know it,” Biden recalled saying.
In the White House, Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot Task Force to sharpen and rethink the federal government’s role in fighting the disease. “I promised I’d do everything I could to knock down every silo that existed at the federal level, impeding progress,” Biden said.
The speech, which didn’t include questions from the audience, was tightly focused and apolitical. “Guess what?” Biden said. “The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer.”
The only reference to Donald Trump came obliquely, when Biden went off the script to vent about a White House Cabinet that doesn’t believe in global warming. “It frustrates me,” Biden said. He’d been talking about the harmful chemicals in the environment that can make people sick.
“The core of the Republicans in Congress and Democrats are good, decent, honorable people,” Biden added. “It’s my hope that this new administration, once it gets organized — and I’m not being facetious — will be able to focus on and be as committed and enthusiastic as we are to the goal of ending cancer.”
Biden was joined in Austin by his wife, Jill, who introduced him. Last year, both Barack and Michelle Obama came to SXSW to deliver keynote speeches.
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